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NY State Senate Defeats Bill to Legalize Gay Marriage

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The New York State Senate has defeated a bill to legalize gay marriage with a vote of 38 to 24. All thirty Republicans voted against it. The Senate vote was conducted Wednesday in a special session called by Governor David Paterson, who has publicly championed the bill. We speak with the bill’s lead sponsor, Tom Duane, the New York Senate’s only openly gay member. [includes rush transcript]

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

JUAN GONZALEZ: The New York State Senate has defeated a bill to legalize gay marriage with a vote of 38 to 24. All thirty Republicans voted against it. The Senate vote was conducted Wednesday in a special session called by Governor David Paterson, who has publicly championed the bill. It came less than twenty-four hours after the State Assembly passed a bill a second time. The State Assembly first approved the bill in May by a vote of 89 to 52. The New York Times reports the defeat all but ensures that the issue is dead in New York until at least 2011, when a new legislature will be installed.

Since 2003, seven states have legalized same-sex marriage, but in two of the seven — California last year and Maine last month — statewide referendums have repealed the law. On Tuesday, Washington, DC gave its first vote of approval to a marriage equality bill. The bill must now go to a second and final vote, then go through a thirty-day congressional review period.

AMY GOODMAN: New York State Senator Tom Duane was the bill’s lead sponsor. He is the New York Senate’s only openly gay member. He joins us now on the telephone.

And joining us here in our studio is Ann Northrop. She’s a veteran journalist and activist, co-host of Gay USA on Manhattan Neighborhood Network and Free Speech TV.

We welcome you both to Democracy Now! Tom Duane, talk about this bill and what its defeat means in the New York State Senate.

STATE SEN. THOMAS DUANE: It’s a momentary defeat in a history where we generally have had a couple of steps forward and then a step back. This is just a momentary step back, Amy. We’re absolutely not going to stop. Of course, I’m incredibly angry. I’m very sad. But the anger has really overtaken the sadness. I believe each and every member of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender community in New York state has been betrayed. There was a terrible lack of courage, a contagious lack of courage in the New York State Senate. It was really one of their —-

AMY GOODMAN: Well, Tom, can you -—

STATE SEN. THOMAS DUANE: In a body that’s done a lot of shameful things, one of the most shameful things that the Senate has done. That said, I am counting on the community and fair-minded New Yorkers to use this as an energizer to keep the battle going for civil rights.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Tom, the vote, six Democrats voted with the rest of the Republicans. It was a much bigger margin than was expected. It was, oh, seven. Seven —-


JUAN GONZALEZ: Oh, was it eight?


JUAN GONZALEZ: And it was a bigger margin than expected. It was expected to be a close vote. What happened, as far as you can tell?

STATE SEN. THOMAS DUANE: Well, I think that there was, as I say, a stunning lack of courage. You know, the commitments were made not just to me, but to other members of the community and, frankly, to other members of the Senate that votes would be different. And, you know, frankly, I think that you’d have to ask those members why they felt that they were entitled to betray people. I can only -— if I were to make a presumption, it’s just a lack of courage, a political lack of courage. You know, I think people should be outraged at the disgrace of what some of their representatives’ behavior was. And it was not specific to one group, one institution, one party; there was plenty of despicable behavior to go around.

AMY GOODMAN: Tom Duane, can you tell us exactly what the legislation said?

STATE SEN. THOMAS DUANE: The legislation would merely provide the exact same marital rights to people who choose to marry someone of — regardless of their gender.

AMY GOODMAN: Ann Northrop, can you talk about the significance of what happened in New York, but also at the same time you have the District of Columbia voting to legalize same-sex marriage?

ANN NORTHROP: Exactly, and it is a bigger picture. We’re extremely disappointed and angry about what happened in New York, as Tom said. There was a sellout, particularly by Democratic members of the Senate. But we’re optimistic, going forward, that we will win in New York eventually. The New York State Senate is historically what I like to call a clown college. We will overcome that. The question is whether it has implications further. Will this scare New Jersey, for instance, which is debating whether or not to take a vote right away? But we did have a big win in the District of Columbia, and that’s great news. And we are moving forward.

AMY GOODMAN: What was that bill?

ANN NORTHROP: In the District of Columbia? Legalizing same-sex marriage. About a month ago, the city council there legalized the recognition of same-sex marriages from other jurisdictions, and then they moved ahead and legalized same-sex marriages performed in the district, as Juan said. They’ve taken the first vote in the city council; it won 11 to two. They will vote again in two weeks. The mayor will sign the bill. Congress has thirty business days to review it. They will not change it, because the Democratic leadership in the Congress is managing to hold firm against changing that. The real problem becomes on whether the Republicans can succeed in attaching something to an appropriations bill that would interfere, but there we’re optimistic, too.

JUAN GONZALEZ: And Governor Paterson here in New York obviously came out very strongly in favor of the legislation. Any sense of whether his being out front helped the matter at all and what the impact will be of its defeat on him, in terms of his prospects for reelection?

ANN NORTHROP: I think his support helped bring it to a vote, which is something we very badly wanted and needed, because now we know how to proceed forward. We overturned the Republican majority in the State Senate just last year. That was a big, big change. But there are still too many conservative Democrats, and we have a very thin margin of majority there. We need to go farther. We need to defeat the conservative Democrats. We need to defeat a lot of the Republicans. We anticipate all of that very shortly. We’re optimistic about all of that. The governor is really not a factor so much in that. We appreciate his support, and he helped bring it to a vote, which we needed.

AMY GOODMAN: And overall in the national picture, where does gay marriage stand, same-sex marriage stand?

ANN NORTHROP: I think it’s important to remember that we just created this whole concept less than fifteen years ago. You know, the Hawaii marriage case, which is the first time this came up in modern times with any seriousness, was 1996. And at that time, we all went, “Whoa! This is a strange idea. Can we really do this? Should we really do this?” And now, thirteen years later, we have legalized marriage in half a dozen locations. We are moving forward. Majority support in the latest poll in New York state is for marriage rights. That’s stunning that we have over half the population now supporting marriage rights. So this is moving forward propulsively, and we’re very optimistic for the future.

I also want to say we have a big demonstration happening in New York tonight, 6:00 p.m. at Union Square North. So, for those who want to get involved and express their opinions, show up at Union Square North at Broadway and 17th Street at 6:00 tonight.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, Ann and Tom, we thank you very much for being with us. Ann Northrop is a veteran journalist and activist, co-host of Gay USA, which is on Manhattan Neighborhood Network, public access in New York, and also on Free Speech TV. And New York State Senator Tom Duane, who is the sponsor of the bill that was just defeated in the New York State Senate.

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